Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Wrongful eyewitness identifications: Our Lying Eyes; A commentary (Judge) Jed S. Rakoff published by The New York Review of Books..."Why are eyewitnesses so often wrong? Improper police practices sometimes play a part, as when a police officer conducting a line-up urges the eyewitness to “take a good look at number 3,” or when the eyewitness only tentatively identifies the person in the line-up that the officer suspects is the culprit and the officer says, “Good work.” But the chief causes of inaccurate eyewitness identifications are shortcomings inherent in human perception and memory that cannot be eliminated easily, if at all."


PASSAGE ONE OF THE DAY: "Do you see in this courtroom the person you saw fire the fatal shot?” asks the prosecutor. “Yes,” says the eyewitness, pointing to the defendant, adding for good measure, “I will never forget his face.” But in fact the eyewitness is frequently wrong: inaccurate eyewitness identifications appear to be the single greatest contributor to wrongful convictions. For example, they were introduced as evidence in over 70 percent of the more than 360 cases that the Innocence Project, using DNA analysis, later proved were wrongful convictions. Nearly a third of these cases, moreover, involved multiple misidentifications of the defendant. By comparison, the next-most-frequent contributor to wrongful convictions, misleading testimony by forensic “experts,” was present in 45 percent of these cases, and the third-most-frequent factor, false confession, was present in about 30 percent of them."

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PASSAGE TWO OF THE DAY: "Eyewitness identification thus presents the legal system with a challenge unlike any other. In many cases, the only direct evidence of who committed a crime is the testimony of an eyewitness. Yet modern science suggests that much of such testimony is inherently suspect—but not in ways that jurors can readily evaluate from their own experience. The result, alas, is a likelihood of wrongful convictions."

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COMMENTARY: "Our Lying Eyes,"   by Jed S. Rakoff, published by The New York Review of Books April 18, 2019 issue. " (Jed S. Rakoff is a United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York.

GIST: "An eyewitness’s identification of an accused defendant often provides some of the most dramatic and powerful evidence in a criminal case. “Do you see in this courtroom the person you saw fire the fatal shot?” asks the prosecutor. “Yes,” says the eyewitness, pointing to the defendant, adding for good measure, “I will never forget his face.” But in fact the eyewitness is frequently wrong: inaccurate eyewitness identifications appear to be the single greatest contributor to wrongful convictions. For example, they were introduced as evidence in over 70 percent of the more than 360 cases that the Innocence Project, using DNA analysis, later proved were wrongful convictions. Nearly a third of these cases, moreover, involved multiple misidentifications of the defendant. By comparison, the next-most-frequent contributor to wrongful convictions, misleading testimony by forensic “experts,” was present in 45 percent of these cases, and the third-most-frequent factor, false confession, was present in about 30 percent of them. While some eyewitnesses have had prior contact with the person they identify as the perpetrator of a crime (as when a neighbor sees a husband abusing his wife), many have had none and only see the defendant once, when they witness the crime. But in some respects this makes their testimony stronger, for they have no motive to lie. The defendant was a complete stranger to them, and they simply had the misfortune to have been a passer by or, worse, a victim. In either case, the encounter was not something they were likely to forget—and the jury generally finds their testimony believable. Why are eyewitnesses so often wrong? Improper police practices sometimes play a part, as when a police officer conducting a line-up urges the eyewitness to “take a good look at number 3,” or when the eyewitness only tentatively identifies the person in the line-up that the officer suspects is the culprit and the officer says, “Good work.” But the chief causes of inaccurate eyewitness identifications are shortcomings inherent in human perception and memory that cannot be eliminated easily, if at all. Some of these are obvious. The ability of an eyewitness to perceive the face of a culprit will be affected by lighting, by distance and angle, by the acuity of the eyewitness’s eyesight, by the amount of time the eyewitness looked at the culprit, and by distractions such as a gun. Similarly, memories tend to fade over time, which may affect how accurately an eyewitness can remember a face seen many hours, days, or even weeks earlier. Considerable research indicates, however, that many people overrate their ability to perceive and remember faces they saw only once, and that what they remember mostly relates to some general characteristic, such as that the culprit was square-jawed or had a mustache.1 The research also shows that there are many other factors that can influence and distort an eyewitness’s perceptions and recollections. For instance, careful studies going back as far as the 1980s have demonstrated what is now called the “other-race effect”: “eyewitnesses are less likely to misidentify someone of their own race than they are to misidentify someone of another race.”2 While theories vary as to why this is so, it is now pretty much beyond dispute. Another less-than-obvious factor is the result of the well-known tendency of memories to merge over time in order to “fill in the gaps.” An eyewitness who does not know the identity of the perpetrator, say, will thus often be asked by police to view a line-up or photo array that includes one or more possible suspects, to see if the eyewitness can pick out any of them as the culprit. At the time of this viewing, the eyewitness may have only a somewhat blurred memory of the crime, but will typically study the line-up or photographs with care before making a selection (if any). By the time the eyewitness testifies at trial, however, the rough memory of the perpetrator from the actual time of the crime will often have merged with the memory formed from the much more careful scrutiny of the line-up or photographs, so that the eyewitness honestly thinks he remembers a particular detail, like a scar on the defendant’s face, from the time of the crime, even though his perception of that detail came from his viewing of the line-up or photographs. More generally, as summarized in a recent article in The New York Times, “memories formed during a traumatic event become an amalgamation of a person’s understanding of the world, the people around them and the snippets they were able to encode into their brain.”3 Common assumptions can also potentially distort an eyewitness identification. For example, even if a well-trained police officer makes a point of telling an eyewitness not to assume that any of the people being viewed in a line-up or photo array is a suspect, most eyewitnesses will assume that one or more are indeed included, and this will increase the likelihood that the eyewitness will make an identification. To be sure, not all police line-ups and photo arrays are conducted so carefully, and many of the legal developments of the last few decades regarding eyewitness identifications have focused on requiring less suggestive police procedures, such as having a line-up or photo array conducted by an officer not involved in the investigation of the crime. The purpose of this reform is to eliminate the possibility that the officer will suggest, if only through body language, that the eyewitness should make a particular selection. But such reforms, though salutary, are largely irrelevant to solving the more basic problems of human perception and memory that appear to be the main cause of so many false identifications. Some of these misidentifications have been astonishing. Consider the following three cases. In 1984 Kirk Bloodsworth was convicted and sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl in Baltimore. While no physical or circumstantial evidence linked him to the crime, no fewer than five eyewitnesses placed him with the victim or at the scene of the crime. At the time, DNA testing had not yet made its way into the criminal justice system; the first US case involving its use by prosecutors was in 1988, and defense lawyers did not begin to use it until a few years later. Finally, in 1993, DNA analysis of the semen extracted from the girl’s underwear showed that the culprit was not Bloodsworth but someone else, who eventually confessed. Thankfully, Bloodsworth had not been executed, and he was set free that year. Also in 1984, a college student named Jennifer Thompson was raped in Burlington, North Carolina. When shown an array of six photos, she tentatively identified Ronald Cotton as her assailant, initially stating, “I think this is the guy.” At the time of trial, however, Thompson testified that she was “absolutely sure” that Cotton was the man who had raped her. Cotton was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Over a decade later, DNA testing of the semen taken from her vagina right after the crime proved to be that of another man, who was then charged, and Cotton was set free. In 1974 James Bain was convicted in Florida of raping a nine-year-old boy. Although this was long before DNA testing was available, blood found in the semen taken from the boy’s underwear was type B, and Bain’s blood was type AB. Nevertheless, the jury convicted him, chiefly on the basis of the boy’s identification of Bain, which he had consistently provided from the initial photo array through the trail. Years later, after DNA testing became available, Bain filed handwritten motions in court four times asking for DNA testing of the semen, but all four were denied. Finally, however, after Bain obtained assistance from a lawyer and the Innocence Project of Florida, DNA testing was granted—and it completely exonerated him. He was released in 2009, having served thirty-five years for a crime he did not commit. In each of these cases, had it not been for DNA testing, the defendants would still be in prison, or dead. But DNA samples are either unavailable or irrelevant to the investigation and prosecution of most crimes. It may reasonably be inferred, therefore, that numerous defendants currently imprisoned were wrongly convicted on the basis of inaccurate eyewitness testimony. And it may be further assumed that while some of these inaccurate identifications may have been the product of suggestive police procedures, many more were the result of shortcomings in perception and memory that are endemic to the human species.  How should the legal system deal with this seemingly intractable problem? The fact that eyewitness identifications are frequently unreliable was recognized by the Supreme Court as early as 1967 in cases like United States v. Wade, Gilbert v. California, and Stovall v. Denno, which focused on the need to have defense counsel present at line-ups in order to avoid unfairness. It was not until a decade later, in 1977, that the Supreme Court, in Manson v. Brathwaite, addressed the issue of whether eyewitness identifications might be the product of overly suggestive police techniques, such as, in Manson, showing the eyewitness a single photograph. The emphasis in Manson and in most subsequent cases was on identifying and eliminating such practices, since they were the aspect of eyewitness inaccuracy that could most readily be fixed. While much remains to be done in this regard, progress has been made. At least nine states now require that line-ups and photo arrays be “blindly” administered, i.e., by a police officer who has no familiarity with the investigation. Many states and localities also require the police managing the line-ups and photo arrays to read from a script that minimizes suggestiveness. Further still, eleven states now require that the eyewitness’s initial degree of confidence in making an identification be recorded and made available to the defense. While further reforms are required—such as videotaping the suspects in the line-ups (and perhaps the eyewitness reactions) and training the police who administer the line-ups and photo arrays to avoid even unconscious suggestiveness—at least police procedure is an area where concrete steps can be taken to minimize inaccuracy. But neither the courts nor the police have done much to deal with the bigger problem of eyewitness inaccuracy caused by fundamental problems in an ordinary person’s perception and memory. Although the Manson decision invited federal trial courts to exclude eyewitness testimony, not just for police suggestiveness but also for inherent infirmities, this invitation coming as it did before most of the research on the less obvious weaknesses of perception and memory had been undertaken has in practice rarely led to such exclusion. More recently, however, a few state courts, most notably in New Jersey, have begun experimenting with a different approach: either instructing jurors about the more subtle limitations on human perception and memory that affect eyewitness identification or allowing experts to testify about them. Regretfully, preliminary studies have concluded that the effectiveness of these approaches is modest. Jurors seem to interpret a judge’s special instructions on the subject of eyewitness identification as a veiled message that the judge does not believe the eyewitness; they therefore do not try to distinguish between identifications that are more or less likely to be affected by the factors referenced by the judge, but rather disregard them all. Expert testimony, for its part, often devolves into a battle between experts on both sides, which, according to these studies, the jury resolves by ignoring every one of them.4 In both cases, the result is that jurors still do not undertake the admittedly difficult task of distinguishing reliable from unreliable eyewitness identifications. In my opinion, these approaches also ignore the fact that the overwhelming majority of criminal cases—more than 95 percent—are resolved by plea bargains or other dispositions not requiring any fact-finding by a judge or jury. Instead, resolving criminal cases has become primarily the responsibility of prosecutors, who now have nearly unfettered discretion to decide who shall be charged, what the charges will be, and how they should be resolved.5 While this is unfortunate, it is also unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. Thus the best thing that can now be done to mitigate the frequent inaccuracy of eyewitness identifications is to educate prosecutors, through training early in their careers, about the dangers of inaccuracy that persist even when police procedures have been unassailable. It may be that courts could not order such training (though the legislative and executive branches easily could); but the courts could suggest its adoption with an emphasis that might be persuasive. One other modest mitigating factor should be mentioned. For many everyday crimes, like robbery, the presence of surveillance cameras in stores and buildings has made the police somewhat less dependent on eyewitness identification. The broader use of such surveillance cameras should therefore be encouraged. Of course, this is only a partial solution, not only because those committing crimes often seek to avoid detection by, for example, wearing masks, but also because it remains the case that most violent crimes are committed by unmasked individuals in places such as alleys and private homes where videotaping is not occurring. Eyewitness identification thus presents the legal system with a challenge unlike any other. In many cases, the only direct evidence of who committed a crime is the testimony of an eyewitness. Yet modern science suggests that much of such testimony is inherently suspect—but not in ways that jurors can readily evaluate from their own experience. The result, alas, is a likelihood of wrongful convictions."



The entire commentary can be read at:
https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2019/04/18/our-lying-eyes/
 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Motherisk: Defunct lab at the Hospital for Sick Children. (Toronto): A British lab analyzes the Motherisk debacle and offers '5 reasons why the Motherisk scandal shouldn’t happen again.'..."Motherisk’s next misstep was the lack of formal process and documentation meant that it was almost impossible for any third party to robustly assess its results. When the entire process isn’t adequately captured, it becomes easy for the lab to skirt over anomalies and simplify conclusions. At Cansford Labs, for instance, we share the evidence in full. This is an absolutely vital component when the test will be involved in a highly sensitive matter like child custody. The fact that Motherisk offered no insight into how its results were arrived at beggars belief."


PUBLISHER'S NOTE: Now that the ill-fated Motherisk program at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto has been totally shuttered up, I find it fascinating to look at how Cansford Labs,  a drug and alcohol   testing laboratory  located in the U.K.,  analyzed the Motherisk debacle,  as set out in a Blog published on the company's  web site which offers, '5 reasons why the Motherisk scandal shouldn’t happen again."

Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog.

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PASSAGE OF THE DAY:  "When things go as wrong as they did at Motherisk, it’s important not to stick our heads in the sand. Especially when it involves vulnerable individuals.
But Motherisk was an aberration. A tragic and disastrous aberration. The science of hair sample testing remains a powerful tool when the analysis is done correctly, appropriately, with quality control and assurances and interpreted by qualified experts. Indeed, it’s only right that for vulnerable individuals, that nothing but the best will do. A fact that Motherisk seemingly forgot."


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POST:  "5 reasons why the Motherisk scandal shouldn’t happen again," by Lolita Tsanaclis, published on  The Cansford Labs Blog m- The drug and alcohol testing blog - on December 6, 2017.

GIST: In the interconnected scientific community, the reverberations of what happens in one corner of the globe can be felt all across it, especially when these reverberations have profound implications on people's lives.  A recent example is the Motherisk scandal in Canada. We were shocked and saddened, when we first heard of the case last year, and now that more information has come to light we decided to study it to understand how and why it happened. For a comprehensive look at the scandal, CBC has an excellent investigative report (below). In short, Motherisk was a clinic operating within Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children which became a renowned centre for hair sample testing. Between the late 1990s and early 2015, the clinic conducted hair-strand drug and alcohol tests in a lab under the direction of Dr. Gideon Koren. The results of Motherisk’s hair tests were often used in custody and child protection cases in part to decide whether a parent was fit to care for a child. So what exactly is the controversy? As it turns out, for more than two decades Motherisk performed flawed drug and alcohol testing on thousands of vulnerable families across Canada, skewing decisions in over 35,000 child protection cases. Families were torn apart. As Susan Lang, the independent reviewer who investigated the scandal, said: “losing your child is the capital punishment of child protection law.” What went wrong? Lang’s report exposed a litany of flaws in how Motherisk conducted its tests. The picture that emerges, very clearly, is a case of flawed process, not flawed science. 1. The tests were preliminary: The tests performed by Motherisk relied on the unconfirmed results of its enzyme-linked immuno-sorbent assay (ELISA) tests. ELISA is often used as a screening tool before more in-depth tests are undertaken. It can be used in toxicology as a rapid presumptive screen for certain classes of drugs. It’s useful if you need to screen a large number of samples when the presumption that only a small percentage will test positive. But it’s not definitive and the results can be erroneously interpreted. The Motherisk Lab did not follow-up its presumed positive ELISA results with follow-on in-depth tests. Therefore, the results simply could not be relied upon to provide the absolute certainty needed. As Craig Chatterton, a forensic toxicologist and a proponent of hair sample testing, correctly explains in the CBC report on Motherisk, a preliminary test like ELISA can be spot on - but, tragically for the families implicated, it can be 100% incorrect, too. Susan Lang’s report went on to say "No forensic toxicology laboratory in the world uses ELISA testing the way MTDL [Motherisk] did. 2. Motherisk had no written standard operating procedures: Having standard, professional operating procedures in place is one of the central pillars of any testing environment, not just hair sample testing. In this regard, Motherisk failed egregiously. The Lang report found no evidence of any written standard operating procedures at Motherisk. This raises serious doubts about the reliability and, crucially, the standardisation of its testing procedures. Both forensic and clinical laboratories should have standard operating procedures in place for each of the tests they perform. Motherisk had no clear, documented procedures which means the processes could have varied substantially in each individual case, calling into question, rightly, the integrity of the lab’s results. 3. No transparency: Motherisk’s next misstep was the lack of formal process and documentation meant that it was almost impossible for any third party to robustly assess its results. When the entire process isn’t adequately captured, it becomes easy for the lab to skirt over anomalies and simplify conclusions. At Cansford Labs, for instance, we share the evidence in full. This is an absolutely vital component when the test will be involved in a highly sensitive matter like child custody. The fact that Motherisk offered no insight into how its results were arrived at beggars belief.  4: Inadequate training and oversight:  The inadequacy and transparency issues within Motherisk seeped all the way into the employees at the lab. From reading the Lang report, Motherisk scientists were operating without any forensic training or oversight. The ELISA tests were inadequate, but even if they weren’t, the individuals interpreting the results weren’t properly trained. Nobody at Motherisk, including, rather incredibly, Dr. Koren himself, had the proper training. The lack of training manifested in all manner of amateurish mistakes. Staff routinely failed to wash hair samples before analysis, for example. One mother tested positive for alcohol because her alcohol-laced hairspray had not been washed off the sample. With the right training and process, these issues could easily have been avoided. 5. A compromised chain of custody" In the CBC report into Motherisk, one mother recalls how her second test was conducted after she disputed the first test’s results: “With my second test, the hair was done in the social worker’s office with the scissors out of her desk, tape off her desk and cardboard from the trash.” Her sample tested positive for crystal meth, but laughably when she next saw her “hair sample”, the hair that allegedly belonged to her was longer and a different colour.
It should go without saying, but any robust testing process requires professionalism throughout. It’s not just about testing the sample, but also about how the sample is collected and treated. The chain of custody is of paramount importance. Trusted professionals need to be present at every stage of the process, guided by the lab that will do the testing, and the procedures need to be the same for every single case.
Motherisk was an aberration: When things go as wrong as they did at Motherisk, it’s important not to stick our heads in the sand. Especially when it involves vulnerable individuals.
But Motherisk was an aberration. A tragic and disastrous aberration. The science of hair sample testing remains a powerful tool when the analysis is done correctly, appropriately, with quality control and assurances and interpreted by qualified experts. Indeed, it’s only right that for vulnerable individuals, that nothing but the best will do. A fact that Motherisk seemingly forgot."

https://blog.cansfordlabs.co.uk/the-drug-and-alcohol-testing-blog/5-reasons-why-the-motherisk-scandal-shouldnt-happen-again

Monday, April 22, 2019

Michael Peterson: North Carolina: Convicted of first-degree murder in killing of wife Kathleen; Released from prison and new trial ordered after it was revealed that a blood analyst with the State Bureau of Investigation, one of the key witnesses, had given misleading testimony. Now, in aftermath of an 'Alford Plea' to voluntary manslaughter, he persists in asserting his innocence..."They convicted me because of blood," a preview of Monday's episode shows Peterson telling Dr. Phil, explaining that investigators said there was far too much blood under his wife for a fall down the stairs. In the episode, Dr. Phil is expected to ask Peterson questions like, "How can you explain the blood?" and "Did you want your wife dead?"​​​​​​


STORY: "Durham novelist Michael Peterson denies killing his wife in latest Dr. Phil episode," by reporter Jessica Patrick, published by WRAL on April 22, 2019.

GIST: "A new Dr. Phil episode airing on Monday will examine Mike Peterson, a Durham novelist maintaining his innocence after the Dec. 9, 2001, death of his wife, Kathleen. In the episode, which airs at 3 p.m. on WRAL, Dr. Phil interviews Peterson, who denies killing his wife and explains the circumstances surrounding her death. WRAL News covered the Peterson case, which led to a 2004 Netflix documentary, from start-to-finish.  Two years after Kathleen Peterson was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in the couple's upscale home, Mike Peterson was convicted of first-degree murder.  "They convicted me because of blood," a preview of Monday's episode shows Peterson telling Dr. Phil, explaining that investigators said there was far too much blood under his wife for a fall down the stairs. In the episode, Dr. Phil is expected to ask Peterson questions like, "How can you explain the blood?" and "Did you want your wife dead?"​​​​​​ In December 2011, Peterson was released from prison and a new trial was ordered after it was revealed that a blood analyst with the State Bureau of Investigation, one of the key witnesses, had given misleading testimony. After years of continuing legal battles, Peterson agreed to enter an Alford plea in February 2017 to a charge of voluntary manslaughter. After the plea, Peterson was sentenced to time served and walked out of a Durham County courtroom a convicted felon but a free man."

The entire story can be read at:


https://www.wral.com/durham-novelist-michael-peterson-denies-killing-his-wife-in-latest-dr-phil-episode/18339234/

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Read also the Raleigh News and Observer story 'Michael Peterson has a story to tell, and a question to answer: ‘Who am I?’  (April 21, 2019) by reporter Andrew Carter at the link below.

STORY: "For months, we have talked about the book. He had hoped to have it ready in mid-November, then after Christmas. In February, he sends an email announcing that the website to download it is ready. “There will also be an Amazon Kindle and print book available in a few days,” he writes. “Out of respect for you, I will not send this information to other media for a little while, including that bitch from London at the Daily Mail who banged on my door, then did a 10-page hatchet job on me. ...” It’s a jarring description of a female reporter who arrived at Peterson’s apartment in Durham one day last summer, at the height of the craze over the documentary. It’s jarring, especially, coming from a man who spent eight years in prison after being convicted of killing his second wife. Peterson is 75 now, and for nearly two decades his life has been consumed one way or another by what happened on Dec. 9, 2001, when Kathleen Peterson was found dead at the bottom of the back staircase in their home, covered in blood. Peterson has insisted that he was innocent.
At the trial, a jury convicted him. In prison, he lost his appeals. Then came the revelation that Duane Deaver, a former SBI blood spatter analyst, exaggerated his expertise and misled the jury. Peterson’s conviction was thrown out in 2011. For years after, he lived in purgatory, unsure if prosecutors would retry him, unsure if he’d go back to prison for the rest of his life. Finally, in 2017, he accepted an Alford plea, which allowed him to plead guilty to manslaughter in exchange for a sentence of time served. He walked out of court a free man — as free as anyone can be after a murder conviction, after accepting legal responsibility for his wife’s death, and after a civil judgment that ordered him to pay one of his stepdaughters, Caitlin Atwater, $25 million, money he doesn’t have and never will. “I can’t own anything,” he says to me one day in his apartment, “because I would lose it.” He rents the place. He leases his car. He says four New York City publishers were interested in his book, but they backed off when they understood his legal predicament. He speaks about everything as if he’s come to terms with it, and yet he finds fault in the logic. “I owe her now with interest, probably $35 or $40 million dollars for what (Caitlin) considers me killing her mother,” Peterson says. “Well, I didn’t do that. So should I owe her that money?” That’s why the book is free: Because in some ways, Peterson still isn’t. What is freedom to a man many think should still be locked away?He seems to appreciate the mystery surrounding him. A lifelong storyteller — a novelist who wrote freelance political columns for The Herald-Sun in Durham in the mid-to-late 1990s — Peterson embraces the drama. The link in the email he sent me goes to his website for the book. There’s an “About the Author” section. “Kathleen once told me that I was every character in every book I’d written; she said she could identify me in them all,” Peterson writes, before listing several characters. “… ‘None of them are all bad,’ I said. ‘True,’ she answered, ‘but none are all good either.’ “I think she was on to something. So who am I?” The question posed in his book’s introduction sets up Peterson’s story. He’s often telling one. A few minutes after knocking on his door in mid-November, our first meeting, I’m following him inside, past the living room, to a small nook next to the kitchen. Stacks of memorabilia cover a table: photographs from his time in Vietnam, where he served in the Marines; one of him in a hospital bed after an injury. Near the top is a copy of Time magazine. He opens it to the page where there’s a blurb about “The Staircase.” The article describes him as “suspiciously laid-back.” He wonders what that means. He doesn’t like it. Peterson has kept everything he could find that has been written about the documentary. Some of the stories, he doesn’t appreciate. He keeps those, too. “Suspiciously laid-back.” He asks again what that’s about, shaking his head. Peterson knows that some people just think he’s guilty, that he belongs in prison. He lives with that, just as he lives with the contrast between the life he’s still learning to live and the one that was his before Dec. 9, 2001. Back then, he was known as a successful novelist with a passion for politics. People delighted in his war stories. He counted doctors and lawyers and politicians among his friends. Very few of them remain in his orbit. Now the memories of what was occupy the same space as those from prison. In one moment, Peterson can tell stories about being a student at Duke University and meeting B. Everett Jordan , the Democratic senator from North Carolina. In another, his mind redirected, Peterson can describe the men he met inside Nash Correctional Institution.  He has stories about inmates with names like Johnny Blood, Banger, Jay Bird, The Dwarf. He can tell stories about Rae Carruth, the former Carolina Panthers player who served time in Nash, too. They shared the same attorney, David Rudolf. Peterson says he and Carruth became friends. “Some major, major, major characters in prison,” Peterson says. “A lot more interesting than the cocktail crowd I used to hang out with.” Peterson feels the rejection from that crowd. After his conviction was overturned in 2011, there was no welcome-home party. There was no home. The large house that he shared with Kathleen, the one off of Cedar Street in Durham’s Forest Hills Neighborhood, was but a memory to Peterson. So were a lot of his friendships. “People I had known, people that Kathleen and I had known well … none of them reached out to me,” Peterson says, sitting inside of an apartment that’s about 4 miles away from Cedar Street. “At first I thought, my God, I’m out of prison, you know, my conviction was overturned – I didn’t kill Kathleen ...” “I thought, ‘Oh, what is it, you know? Was it because it came out (in the trial) that I was bisexual and they were going to be contaminated, that it was contagious or something?’ I don’t know. But then I realized, hell, I don’t want to be a part of their life — not remotely interested in their life.” People are interested in his. In March, the “Dr. Phil” show flew Peterson to Los Angeles for a taping of the show, which will air over two episodes April 22 and 23. (“We did not bond, ... he thinks I was guilty,” Peterson writes in an email to me about his interview with psychologist Phil McGraw.) He says he has hundreds of friend requests on Facebook. During a recent trip to the airport, he says he often felt stares. Not long ago, at Target, he says a man in the parking lot asked for a selfie. He says two more did at the library. “Happens all the time,” he says, “because, obviously, of Netflix.” He says he had no idea before “The Staircase” was released that Netflix had purchased the documentary. Peterson hasn’t made any money from it and, even if he had, it wouldn’t be his to keep. In the months after it began streaming last June, his case again became a spectacle. He says he hasn’t watched the documentary. He has difficulty remembering when the filming ceased, or even when he accepted the plea deal that formally ended his case. “I keep losing track of time,” he says.  In prison, time slows down in some ways and accelerates in others. Peterson spent eight years there, yet emerged looking like he had spent 20 or more. In an email before our in-person introduction, he offers a warning: “Don’t be frightened when you see me. I look like hell and am hobbling around on a walker.” He has just had surgery on his feet, a procedure he describes as long overdue to repair an old military injury. His feet look gnarly, with little metal pins, like small nails, sticking out of each one of his toes. He’s in pain. He looks older than 75. His eyes are still a piercing blue, but often there’s a hint of fear in them, as if he’s anxious about something. They’re set back in the sockets. Peterson lives alone. The relative isolation doesn’t bother him. It didn’t, either, in prison, where he says he took five trips to “the hole” — solitary confinement. He says the longest of those lasted approximately 34 days. He earned those trips, he says, because he was often “antagonistic to authority. “Sometimes I welcomed it as, thank God, you know. I’m away from all these other assholes out there. I don’t have to deal with anything. It’s good. So solitude never has bothered me. I mean, writers are, by choice or necessity, solitary individuals. … “And I have this terrific imagination and I can just, you know, make up life.” Statements like that are enough to give pause. Peterson has a history of embellishment. Twenty years ago, he ran for Durham mayor, and built part of his campaign on his military record. In Vietnam, he had earned a Silver Star and a Bronze Star with Valor. Peterson also claimed two Purple Hearts. His military record, however, contained no evidence of those, and after a News  and  Observer reporter confronted Peterson during his campaign, he acknowledged that he had fabricated a story about a leg injury. When he tells a story these days, it’s difficult to know where the exaggerations might lie. His stories from prison are filled with accounts that are nearly impossible to verify. He has stories about coaching Carruth on a prison softball team, and becoming close. Peterson has others about helping inmates earn their GEDs, which he says earned him respect from Nash’s leader of the Bloods, the notorious gang. In another story, Peterson has lost his wedding ring. He was allowed to wear it, and one day after a shower he noticed it was gone. He knew the ring would be a lucrative commodity in a place where even postage stamps are like cash. An hour passed. A younger prisoner found Peterson and presented the ring. “He cleaned the shower, which is the worst job you can have,” Peterson says.
He still wears the ring. He says it reminds him of Kathleen, but also of incarceration, and “that poor kid who had nothing, and returned it to me.” “So I will never take it off,” he says.  In some ways, Peterson tells me, it was more difficult to leave prison, to readjust to the outside, than it was to go in. He has been out now for about eight years, which is about as long as he spent inside. He still finds pleasure in simple things: the space and quiet of an empty room, the freedom to slowly sip a cup of coffee in the morning. His back window overlooks trees and greenery — a contrast to the dirt track and patch of cement that filled the narrow view from his cell. He cried a lot there, at first. One night he went to the ballet with his first wife, Patty Peterson. (They’re still close.) Peterson broke down at the performance. He visited a psychiatrist: “I want you to un(expletive) my head,” Peterson says he told him. The doctor told him to cry. “What’s wrong with crying?” Peterson asks now. “What’s wrong in going in and remembering the sorrow for Kathleen, the sorrow for your children? My mother was dead. My father who died while I was in prison. All of these things, it’s okay to cry about that. “And it’s called catharsis. And it’s also called book-writing. So that’s what I did.” In Peterson’s mind, he is a victim who wrongly spent eight years in prison, and who, out of fear of going back, pleaded guilty to manslaughter. If he could have profited off of his book, he says he would have donated the money to three charities, including the Innocence Project.  Peterson’s social circle is small. His friends now have been his friends for a long time. They’re the ones who visited in prison, who stood by while others turned away. “I felt like that’s what happened to Michael, that he got accused and then all of a sudden everybody just sort of got on the bandwagon and figured he was guilty because he was accused,” says Miner, who for years controlled Peterson’s visitation list at Nash. “... So why did I want to stay friends with him? Well, because he needed a friend.” We’re heading to Raleigh for a lunch visit with Nick Galifianakis, who was a U.S. Congressman in the late 1960s and early ‘70s before he unsuccessfully ran for Senate, losing to Jesse Helms when Helms won the first of his five terms. I’m in the middle of the backseat, where Patty, to my right, offers me lozenges and tries to buckle my seat belt. “You’re in the most dangerous position in the vehicle,” she says. She’s a retired teacher. Peterson drives, and quickly the conversation turns to politics.  “I know we all would agree in this car here, that the world be different if Nick had beaten Jesse Helms,” Peterson says. His mind takes him back to that Senate race in the early ‘70s. Peterson’s service in the Marines had just ended. He and Patty had just bought a house on University Drive in Durham. It was close to the 1972 presidential election, when Richard Nixon defeated George McGovern in the largest landslide in history. “Patty went canvasing for McGovern,” Peterson says. “Do you remember that, Patty? You went up on Oak Drive.” “Never to be forgotten,” she says. She and Peterson are friends, despite their divorce and all that came after. Patty knows it seems a bit unusual. She was close, like sisters, she says, with, Elizabeth Ratliff, who was Peterson’s neighbor when he and Patty lived in Germany in the 1980s. Ratliff, like Kathleen in 2001, was found dead at the bottom of a staircase. Peterson then raised Ratliff’s young daughters, Margaret and Martha, as his own. During the trial, the suspicion surrounding Ratliff’s death was used against Peterson. Elizabeth Ratliff, Patty says in the car, “was my dearly beloved friend.” Patty tries to explain her relationship with Peterson. “I lecture myself every day,” she says. “Try to be a better human being. Try to be kind. As my children and all of my students know, we must have a kind heart for others and I said this to all of my students, the highest aspect of human intelligence is compassion and love for others.” Peterson parks outside the senior living facility where Galifianakis lives with his wife, Louise. The building has the feel of a luxury hotel. Inside the unit, Galifianakis, 90, is lounging in a chair, the TV tuned to CNN, where they’re talking about the latest with President Trump, and his claims of a crisis at the border. Peterson walks in and makes a joke that his old friend should run for president. They share a moment, and Galifianakis, who is the uncle of actor and comedian Zach Galifianakis, asks Peterson about his book. Nick Galifianakis had visited Peterson in prison and worked with Peterson’s defense. The conversation jogs Galifianakis’ memory: “Oh, I’ve got to tell you this,” he says with excitement. And so begins a story about a lunch Galifianakis shared with friends, one of whom asked about notable cases he had tried. “I got into a discussion with him,” Galifianakis says, “about my friend, your neighbor.” “Oh, Larry,” Peterson says. “Larry Pollard.” “Larry Pollard,” Galifianakis says. “And I told him about Larry and the owl.” Larry Pollard is another lawyer. He still lives in Durham on Cedar Street, not far from where Peterson and Kathleen lived. Pollard invented what has been called the Owl Theory, and in some ways has devoted his life to it. It’s the theory that an owl attack led to Kathleen’s death. Not even Peterson took it seriously, at first. Now, in a strange way, both men feel empathy for the other; Pollard because he feels Peterson didn’t kill his wife, and Peterson because of the reaction Pollard has received for years. “That man has suffered more than anybody, except me, during my trial and afterwards,” Peterson says. “He was ridiculed, dismissed as a lunatic. And then it came out oh, wait a minute, there might be more to this.” The Owl Theory has become a fascination. Peterson listens to Galifianakis go on about it. He tells Peterson that not long ago Pollard brought over a large stuffed owl, the same kind he believes attacked Kathleen. He brought over a book with evidence he’s collected over the years. One of the pieces, Pollard says during a phone call later, he calls “my smoking feather.” During that phone call, Pollard talks for about an hour, most of it unprompted by any question. He makes several invitations to see the evidence he’s collected, including the stuffed owl. He knows how all of this sounds: “It has caused me to lose friendships, lose respect, be ridiculed in the press,” he says. Galifianakis asks Peterson if he’s seen the stuffed owl. “Oh, God yes,” Peterson says. Now Galifianakis remembers, too, that Pollard brought a small souvenir: a little owl figurine. It’s cartoonish-looking — an owl hatching out of a pumpkin. It looks like a fall decoration. Louise, would you get that little owl thing?” Galifianakis asks his wife. “You mind getting it?” “Yeah, I do,” she says, shooting him a look before rising off the couch. “Behind you,” Galifianakis says. “There’s a little owl sitting on that thing there.” She brings it over to Peterson. He holds it and looks at it, this cartoonish owl, a representation of the bird that, perhaps, could have attacked his wife 18 years ago, leading to the end of her life and forever altering the direction of his. Peterson grows quiet but not for long. He hands the owl back and rises from his chair. He leads the group downstairs for lunch. There, they talk about war and prison and growing old. Peterson has finished his book but his stories continue."


 
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Read  Wikipedia entry at the link below: "Retrial hearing: "In August 2010, following a series of newspaper articles critical of the investigative tactics of State Bureau of Investigation agents, Attorney General Roy Cooper led an investigation, which resulted in the suspension of SBI analyst Duane Deaver, one of the principal witnesses against Peterson, after the report found his work among the worst done on scores of flawed criminal cases. T. Lawrence Pollard subsequently filed affidavits[23] to support a motion that Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson order the state Medical Examiner's Office to turn over all documentation related to Kathleen Peterson's autopsy to Peterson's attorneys. However, Judge Hudson barred Pollard from filing further motions on behalf of Peterson because Pollard did not represent him. A new motion was filed in August 2010 by David Rudolf, one of Peterson's original attorneys who acted pro bono in proceedings challenging the SBI testimony.[16][24][25] Deaver was fired from the SBI in January 2011, after an independent audit of the agency found he had falsely represented evidence in 34 cases, including withholding negative results in the case of Greg Taylor, a North Carolina man who spent 17 years in prison on a murder conviction based on Deaver's testimony.[26] A bloodstain-analysis team that Deaver had trained was suspended and disbanded. In the 2003 Peterson trial, Deaver testified that he had been mentored by SBI bloodstain specialist David Spittle, had worked 500 bloodstain cases, written 200 reports, and testified in 60 cases. During the retrial hearing, SBI Assistant Director Eric Hooks testified that Deaver had written only 47 reports. SBI agent David Spittle testified that he could not recall mentoring Deaver who, since completing a two-day training course in the 1980s, had testified in only four cases, the Peterson case being the third. The SBI cited the bloodstain analysis given in the fourth case as the reason for firing Deaver.[27] On December 16, 2011, Peterson was released from the Durham County jail on $300,000 bail and placed under house arrest with a tracking anklet. His release on bond followed a judicial order for a new trial after Judge Hudson found that SBI blood analyst Duane Deaver had given "materially misleading" and "deliberately false" testimony about bloodstain evidence, and had exaggerated his training, experience, and expertise.[28][29][30] Former North Carolina Attorney General Rufus Edmisten said that any evidence gathered after Deaver arrived at the scene might be deemed inadmissible in a new trial.[31] In July 2014, Peterson's bond restrictions were eased.[32] In October 2014, the court appointed Mike Klinkosum to represent Peterson, replacing David Rudolf, who had been working pro bono on the case since Peterson's conviction was overturned. Rudolf had stated that he could no longer afford to represent Peterson without being paid.[33] On November 14, 2016, Peterson's request for the second trial to be dismissed was refused, and a new trial was scheduled to begin on May 8, 2017.[2] However, a news report on February 7, 2017, indicated that a resolution had been negotiated by Rudolf (once again representing Peterson) and the Durham County DA."


































"Criminalizing Reproduction: (Part 4): (Attacks on Science, Medicine and Freedom of Choice). "There's no proof “abortion reversals” are real. This study could end the debate," writes reporter Carter Sherman in Vice..."Four states have laws on the books requiring doctors to tell people who want abortions that the procedure can be reversed. Another eight have introduced bills this year that would do the same. There’s just one problem: There’s no conclusive evidence that the treatment behind the so-called “abortion reversal” works."


PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "The tragedy, in a lot of this, is when legislators get involved in things that aren’t proven and then legislate requirements that impede care or are basically, potentially, lies,” said Mitchell Creinin, a professor at the University of California, Davis. “Without good science, we never know if something’s real or not. I mean, you wouldn’t want your doctor to tell you to take an aspirin to treat your cancer.” Four states have laws on the books requiring doctors to tell people who want abortions that the procedure can be reversed. Another eight have introduced bills this year that would do the same. There’s just one problem: There’s no conclusive evidence that the treatment behind the so-called “abortion reversal” works."

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STORY: "There’s no proof “abortion reversals” are real. This study could end the debate," by reporter Carter Sherman, published by VICE on April 18, 2019.

GIST: "Four states have laws on the books requiring doctors to tell people who want abortions that the procedure can be reversed. Another eight have introduced bills this year that would do the same.
There’s just one problem: There’s no conclusive evidence that the treatment behind the so-called “abortion reversal” works. In theory, an “abortion reversal” works like this: In a medication abortion, a woman ends her pregnancy by taking two pills, mifepristone and misoprostol, several hours apart. If a woman changes her mind, however, after taking the mifepristone — which works to block progesterone, a hormone that helps sustain pregnancy — proponents of abortion reversal say that she can take repeated doses of progesterone to reverse its effects. Such a regimen is probably safe. But critics say it remains unproven, and testing it out on patients just isn’t good medicine. Still, in Arkansas, Idaho, South Dakota, and Virginia, doctors are required by law to advise women that it’s an option if they change their mind about wanting an abortion.In theory, an “abortion reversal” works like this: In a medication abortion, a woman ends her pregnancy by taking two pills, mifepristone and misoprostol, several hours apart. If a woman changes her mind, however, after taking the mifepristone — which works to block progesterone, a hormone that helps sustain pregnancy — proponents of abortion reversal say that she can take repeated doses of progesterone to reverse its effects. Such a regimen is probably safe. But critics say it remains unproven, and testing it out on patients just isn’t good medicine. Still, in Arkansas, Idaho, South Dakota, and Virginia, doctors are required by law to advise women that it’s an option if they change their mind about wanting an abortion. “The tragedy, in a lot of this, is when legislators get involved in things that aren’t proven and then legislate requirements that impede care or are basically, potentially, lies,” said Mitchell Creinin, a professor at the University of California, Davis. “Without good science, we never know if something’s real or not. I mean, you wouldn’t want your doctor to tell you to take an aspirin to treat your cancer.” Politics, meet science Now, Creinin says he’s about to find out whether abortion reversal is, indeed, real. Thanks to a recent grant of more than $400,000 from the Society of Family Planning, which supports abortion and contraception research, Creinin is currently spearheading what’s thought to be the first study on abortion reversal that uses randomized, double-blind testing and placebos — all hallmarks of the most rigorous forms of studies. It’s been approved by UC Davis’ institutional review board, and registered with ClinicalTrials.gov. The progesterone protocol is not recommended by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which says any claims about abortion reversal’s effectiveness “are not based on science and do not meet clinical standards.” Even Creinin, who plans to spend a year on his study, doesn’t think it’s possible. “It just doesn’t make any physiological sense,” he said. Mifepristone helps end pregnancies because it binds tightly to the hormone receptors that also attach to progesterone, he explained, and no amount of progesterone can unwind those bonds. “If you have four bolts on your door, if you think that coming with some extra keys is gonna help you unlock the bolts when none of the keys necessarily work in the lock, it ain’t gonna open the door,” he said. But mifepristone doesn’t always work — when taken alone, it’s commonly cited as ending just between 10 and 50 percent of pregnancies. Generally, if a woman changes her mind about having a medication abortion, doctors will advise her to simply not take the second pill. Creinin is now recruiting 40 women, who must already want surgical abortions, to undergo his study. About two weeks before their planned abortion, study participants will first take mifepristone and then either progesterone or a placebo. They’ll be monitored until they get their surgical abortion, which the women must still pay for themselves. “If there’s a difference between the groups and it shows that the group with the progesterone continued the pregnancy more and the group with the placebo lost the pregnancy more, then that shows the progesterone does something,” Creinin explained. He’s already started enrolling patients. A new idea, championed by states The idea that medication abortions can be reversed has been championed for years by California doctor George Delgado, who was the first to propose using progesterone to halt them. While Delgado agrees that there should be more medical research into what he calls “abortion pill reversal,” he has concerns about Crienin’s approach. “He’s right: None of the studies that we’ve published have been prospective, randomized controlled trials, so that is a weakness, absolutely,” Delgado said. But he’s worried that Creinin will use a less-effective progesterone regimen and that his study’s sample size is too small. (Creinin says that if Delgado is right about how effective the progesterone regimen is, Creinin will have enough participants to prove whether it works.) Delgado told VICE News that he’s designing his own randomized controlled study and it will tentatively include 900 women. Each patient will be given one of three treatments involving progesterone; none will receive a placebo, as Delgado, who opposes abortion, considers that to be unethical. He anticipates having results within two years. Delgado first published a paper that claimed that progesterone could be used to reverse a medication abortion in 2012. That paper focused on just seven patients, four of whom ended up carrying their pregnancies to term without neonatal complications or birth defects. (One patient was lost to follow-up.) Delgado concluded that his progesterone regimen likely had a success rate of 66 percent. In April 2018, Delgado published a second, much larger paper. Out of 547 women who underwent a progesterone regimen shortly after taking mifepristone and who were followed throughout the study, 257 gave birth to live children. Many researchers remained unconvinced that Delgado’s work was credible. In an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers pointed out multiple flaws in the second paper, including that some providers had excluded women whose pregnancies had already effectively ended by the time they decided to undergo the progesterone protocol — a move that potentially inflated its success rate. “It is poorly designed and falls far short of providing sufficient evidence to recommend this course of treatment,” Hal Lawrence, a doctor and ACOG’s executive vice president and CEO, told VICE News of Delago’s second study soon after its publication. “These are people in my opinion who are just ideologically opposed to what we’re doing,” Delgado countered Tuesday. “And so they’re trying to find anything they can to criticize us and to defame us, and I think that’s very unfortunate, because they don’t have the patients in mind.” But it's the law This controversy hasn’t stopped anti-abortion legislators from enshrining “abortion reversal” into state law, and some cases, expanding it. This year, Arkansas Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law a bill that will mandate that patients who’ve just taken mifepristone be informed that their abortion can still be reversed. Bills that would require doctors to counsel patients about abortion reversal have also been proposed this year in Georgia, Kansas, North Carolina, Nebraska, and Oklahoma; they’ve already been signed into law in Kentucky and North Dakota, the Guttmacher Institute has found. Despite the need for more research into the treatment, Delgado says it’s safe enough to recommend. “There’s no reason to withhold the treatment, pending the other studies, because right now all the evidence shows that it is safe and effective,” he said. “And this is how we’ve done any other new treatment throughout the history of medicine.” VICE News reached out to several state legislators who backed abortion reversal bills about Creinin’s study, and its impact on their proposals. “If you talk to the doctors who have done this, it’s pretty convincing, and see the babies — and I have seen some of those babies — which are now thriving, growing people, that’s pretty good evidence in my mind,” said North Carolina Sen. Joyce Krawiec, a Republican. “But I would be very anxious to see the results of [Creinin’s] study as well.” Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, has not yet decided whether to sign an abortion reversal bill that recently passed the state legislature, her office said. Creinin knows that legislators don’t have to pay attention to the results of his study, regardless of what he finds. But it’s important to test the treatment anyway, he said, as a doctor who cares for women. While a woman has never told him that she wanted to change her mind after taking mifepristone — and at least one study has indicated that most women are sure of their decision to get abortions — Creinin says it is possible. “Rather than people doing shams of treatment and calling it ‘studies,’ the goal is to really find out, ‘Is this real or not?’” Creinin said. “So that if it’s not real, we can stop stupid laws from being passed. And so that, if it is potentially real, then we can at least understand what the right treatment is.”"


The entire story can be read at:




https://news.vice.com/en_ca/article/j5wqqp/theres-no-proof-abortion-reversals-are-real-this-study-could-end-the-debate



Sunday, April 21, 2019

Wrongful convictions and overstatement of forensic results: Incisive New York Times story (reporter) Heather Murphy) on recent report of National Registry of Exonerations: "A Leading Cause for Wrongful Convictions: Experts Overstating Forensic Results."..."Ms. O’Brien said bite mark analysis was even more bogus than hair comparisons. Often you can’t even tell if a wound is a bite mark, she said. “It doesn’t even get past the barest suggestion of scientific reality.” This pseudoscience cost Steven Chaney decades of his life."


PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "Another prominent factor in wrongful convictions across the country was misleading forensic evidence. A close look at these cases reveals how experts in fields like hair analysis, bite marks and DNA analysis have used exaggerated statistical claims to bolster unscientific assertions. Once experts meet the qualifications to take the stand in a courtroom, there are few limits on the words that come out of their mouths. “An expert can say whatever they want,” said Simon Cole, the director of the registry and a professor of Criminology, Law and Society at UC -Irvine. That includes offering up invented odds like “one in a million” or “1 in 129,600,” the registry says. “A lot of the problem with forensic testimony is that the diagnosticity is overstated,” said Barbara O’Brien, a professor at the Michigan State University College of Law and author of the report. A hair sample at the crime scene that resembles a suspect’s hair “gets dressed up with this scientific certainty that isn’t justified,” she said.

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STORY: "A Leading Cause for Wrongful Convictions: Experts Overstating Forensic Results," by reporter Heather Murphy, published by The New York Times on April 20, 2019. (Heather Murphy is a science reporter. She writes about the intersection of technology and our genes and how bio-tech innovations affect the way we live.)

PHOTO CAPTION: "These three men spent decades in prison as a result of statistical exaggerations. They were among 150 men and women released from prison after their wrongful convictions were overturned in 2018. In 1987, a forensic expert testified that there was a less than one in 10,000 chance that these hairs came from the same person. The problem? Those odds were plucked from thin air."

GIST: "More than 150 men and women in American prisons were exonerated in 2018, according to a recent report by a registry that tracks wrongful convictions. Combined, these individuals spent more than 1,600 years in prison, a record for the database, which has data back to 1989. The leading culprit in convicting innocent people was official misconduct, according to the report by the National Registry of Exonerations. Nearly one third of these cases involved a police corruption scheme in Chicago through which a police officer framed individuals on drug charges. Another prominent factor in wrongful convictions across the country was misleading forensic evidence. A close look at these cases reveals how experts in fields like hair analysis, bite marks and DNA analysis have used exaggerated statistical claims to bolster unscientific assertions. Once experts meet the qualifications to take the stand in a courtroom, there are few limits on the words that come out of their mouths. “An expert can say whatever they want,” said Simon Cole, the director of the registry and a professor of Criminology, Law and Society at UC -Irvine. That includes offering up invented odds like “one in a million” or “1 in 129,600,” the registry says. “A lot of the problem with forensic testimony is that the diagnosticity is overstated,” said Barbara O’Brien, a professor at the Michigan State University College of Law and author of the report. A hair sample at the crime scene that resembles a suspect’s hair “gets dressed up with this scientific certainty that isn’t justified,” she said. Here are three examples from the study’s case files.


The tool: microscopic hair comparison:
In 2013, the F.B.I. reported that testimony asserting that microscopic hair comparison could produce a “match” between two hairs was scientifically invalid. Four years later, a man named Glenn Payne was still grappling with the consequences of three sets of misleading odds. In 1990, when he was 28, he was charged with sexually abusing his 2-year-old neighbor. Upon arrest, Mr. Payne was asked to disrobe. A hair was left behind on a sheet of butcher paper. Investigators located a second hair on a tablecloth draped over the girl. In court, a lab analyst testified that the hair on the butcher paper had a 1 in 2,700 chance of matching someone other than the victim, and the hair on the tablecloth had a 1 in 48 chance of belonging to someone other than Mr. Payne. He then multiplied these figures together to get a “1 in 129,600” chance of anything other than a random occurrence. In 2017, lawyers who were reinvestigating the case reached out to the analyst. He acknowledged that the statistical evidence was invalid. He said he should have indicated “that the hair sample found on the defendant could have come from the victim, and the hair sample found on the tablecloth used to cover the victim could have come from the defendant.” A new medical report also suggested that the charges were a product of a misunderstanding. The little girl wasn’t suffering from abuse, it concluded: She had a strep infection.

The tool: bite marks matching:
Ms. O’Brien said bite mark analysis was even more bogus than hair comparisons. Often you can’t even tell if a wound is a bite mark, she said. “It doesn’t even get past the barest suggestion of scientific reality.” This pseudoscience cost Steven Chaney decades of his life. In 1987, Mr. Chaney was charged with murdering a couple who sold him drugs. At trial, a medical consultant testified that he’d compared a wax model of Mr. Chaney’s mouth to a mark on the male victim’s arm. Mr. Chaney’s upper and lower arches “matched” the bite, he said, adding that “only one in a million” people could have made that impression. In 2018, an appeals judge concluded that “scientific knowledge underlying the field of bite mark comparisons has evolved” since Chaney’s trial “in a way that contradicts the scientific evidence relied on by the State at trial.” Though this was an extreme example, Mr. Cole said, exaggerated odds are common. “Often they are just saying this person is the source of the bite mark or it’s practically impossible that they are not the source of the bite mark,” he said. He remains concerned that, even though this type of analysis has been widely disavowed by forensic scientists, “not one court in the entire United States has said that bite mark evidence shouldn’t be admissible in court.” 

The tool: touch DNA amplification:
DNA evidence analysis continues to be far more scientifically respected than the older methods of matching hair samples and bite marks, but the case of Mayer Herskovic is a reminder of how testimony about genetic odds can be misleading in court. In 2013, as a group of men was attacking a victim, an assailant grabbed the victim’s shoe and flung it onto a nearby roof. The genetic sample collected from the shoe was too small to be useful. But the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York had developed software that it claimed could amplify samples. At trial, an expert testified that the probability that the shoe sample contained Mr. Herskovic’s DNA was 133 times greater than the likelihood that it came from an unknown person. He was convicted. Two years later, a higher court concluded that the expert witness had oversold this newfangled technique. Mr. Herskovic was exonerated. And the medical examiner’s office abandoned the amplification tool."

The entire story can be read at: 
The  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/20/us/a-leading-cause-for-wrongful-convictions-experts-overstating-forensic-results.html


Read Wrongful Convictions Blog post on the Annual National Registry of Exonerations report by Nancy Petro,  (April 19, 2019) under the heading 'A record number of years lost by those exonerated in 2018,' at the link below: "A record 1,639 years were lost in prison by those wrongly convicted and exonerated in 2018, according to “Exonerations in 2018,” the annual report of The National Registry of Exonerations (NRE). The 151 persons exonerated in 2018 spent an average of 10.9 years wrongly incarcerated before exoneration. The report highlights milestones, trends, and the year’s specific exoneration takeaways. For example, in September 2018 the total number of years lost by exonerees exceeded the milestone of 20,000. As of today, that number is 21,095 lost years for the 2,418 persons known to have been exonerated since 1989. One highlight of 2018 was an extraordinary 31 defendants exonerated as a result of the scandal in Chicago stemming from an era of police corruption led by Sergeant Ronald Watts in which defendants were framed by police on drug and weapons charges. Reinvestigation of these cases — 30 of which were drug crimes — prompted the exonerations. The Registry notes contributors to wrongful conviction in each case of exoneration. The 31 Chicago cases were included in at least 107 cases involving official misconduct, a record number for the year. Official misconduct was a factor in fifty-four homicide exonerations in 2018.
However, encouraging evidence of prosecutors contributing to exonerations through Conviction Integrity Units (CIUs) was evidenced in 58 of the year’s exonerations. Innocence Organizations (IOs) were involved in 86 exonerations, an increase from 70 in 2017. These organizations, considered “professional exonerators” were responsible for 99 exonerations and the two worked together on a record 45 exonerations in 2018. Other frequent contributors to wrongful conviction were noted in the exonerations of 2018: Perjury or false accusation contributed in a record 111 cases; eyewitness misidentification in 31 cases; and false confession in 19 cases. The comprehensive report includes an analysis of exonerations by state and type of crime, as well as the latest findings on other aspects of the workings of criminal justice and its broader impact on states and the nation. As one example, the report includes new research on compensation for exonerees by George Washington University of Law Professor Jeffrey Gutman who studied 1,900 exonerations in state courts posted in the registry as of March 1, 2017. Fewer than half of these exonerees received compensation. Even so, state and local governments have paid more than $2.2 billion in compensation, which does not include the massive financial and human costs related to incarceration, particularly wrongful incarceration. The National Registry of Exonerations, founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Conviction at Northwestern University School of Law, is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science  and Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. This writer is honored to serve on the Registry’s advisory board. The complete National Registry of Exonerations 2018 annual report is available here."https://wrongfulconvictionsblog.org/2019/04/09/annual-exonerations-report-a-record-number-of-years-lost-by-those-exonerated-in-2018/